Is the NFL ready to expand into Europe?

The NFL is staging games in London and Germany again this season for the International Series with a total of five games being played in London, England and Frankfurt, Germany.

While London has been the prime city in the UK for NFL games, Frankfurt is only the second German city to host an NFL game, and this will mark the first time they have had multiple games in the country. This has sparked conversation once again over the legitimacy of European expansion from the NFL. Today’s discussion will comprise multiple pros and cons of the project to give a balanced approach to what could be a monumental challenge for the league.

Pros of European Expansion

Buffalo Bills WR Gabe Davis (13) scored a TD during game against Jacksonville Jaguars at Tottenham Hotspur stadium in London, Oct. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)

There is a large market for the NFL in London. The games are popular enough to attract sell-out crowds at Wembley and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and it is a massive event in the capital every year. In the same category, Germany already has an established American Football culture that the NFL is starting to realize. The GFL has been a stable league for several years and two of the last three ELF champions have been located in Germany. There was a record for attendance in the ELF as well as a record amount of 10,000 plus attendance games, further proving the validity of the German market. Some have argued that the German market is bigger than the UK. The market potential from a revenue point of view is obvious. Aside from the money, people are highly excited and there is a lot of praise for the atmosphere, production, and quality of product on show. The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens are all quality teams. This is directly following some discontent with the Jaguars being a poor team over their period targeting the UK, it seems that they have made the effort to put in more games with playoff implications into the international schedule. Therefore, if an NFL team were to permanently reside in Germany or the UK the expectation is that they would achieve a large following of the fanbase, not only in their country but in Europe. The idea of a European division has been around for a few years but realistically the NFL is likely to start slowly rather than adding four new teams straight away.


Secondly, the NFL has made attempts into Europe with NFL Europe in the past. This was a large-scale project but realistically it was done very poorly. Individual teams in Scotland and England, a lack of focus on developing European players, and Canadian/American teams in a “European” league. It just wasn’t going to be sustainable for the long haul. However, there is some credence to the idea of an NFL-backed ELF. It would provide a large amount of financial backing for the ELF without the NFL having to start laying the groundwork…again. There are teams in the ELF that are Phoenix clubs of the old NFL Europe, so there would already be some interest from American audiences. The International Player Pathway prospects would have an opportunity to showcase their skills and there would be more European interest because of the European players in the league. The ELF and other European leagues have shown there is absolutely a demand for European American football, one of the main problems has always been the initial investment. Coaching and facilities are a byproduct of the investment. This could be an extremely fascinating scenario that will be something to look out for in the next few years.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady throws during game against the Seattle Seahawks, Nov.13, 2022 in Munich, Germany. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Cons of European Expansion

Frankfurt Galaxy and Hamburg Sea Devils battling in NFL Europa

The elephant in the room is just how much is it going to cost to expand into Europe and whether is it worth doing. The NFL is already the most profitable sports league in the world. It doesn’t need Europe to bring in more money than it already does from the Americas. To add one new team, or to relocate a team, is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Even purchasing an ownership stake in the ELF is going to be a large figure. The short-term investment would be in the red for a while before it became profitable. Is the NFL willing to wait years for a small return from their product in Europe? That could very well be a no. The NFL knows exactly how to target the North American audience but doesn’t necessarily have the experience with the European market. Moreover, the leagues that directly compete with the NFL are a lot more plentiful in Europe. Each country has multiple football (soccer), basketball, cricket, and rugby leagues so there is a lot less of the market share to dominate.

Lastly, if something isn’t broken, then why fix it? The NFL has had exponential growth from an international standpoint over the last five years. The games in Europe have been a success without neglecting the fans back in the States. So why then would the NFL want to risk potentially damaging their reputation by not paying attention to the fans that can attend the regular scheduling? There was some criticism that the Jaguars would be playing two games in London. Meaning fans in Jacksonville were missing out on seeing the team they support in an already short season as far as sports seasons go. The current plan of marketing rights being distributed to different teams for different world regions makes sense in terms of international growth, without ignoring the regions that the teams reside within. Overall, the international series has had remarkable success and has found a good balance between the different fan bases. So, it’s doubtful that the NFL will want to potentially harm a perfect situation.

In summary

Hopefully, this can give a good balance from a European perspective. For what it’s worth, it would be nice to see an NFL-backed ELF. However, only if it continued to operate how it currently does with emphasis on European talent and growth of the European game/league. Only time will tell on this subject.The international conversation has skyrocketed over the last few years, so it’s likely that it won’t end any time soon.

Until next time.